President Bush’s administration has few allies in the world, and it is now going to lose the staunchest of them. Facing a growing revolt in his own party, British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced last week that he would step down within the year, well before the 2010 statutory date for the next election.
The plan presumably is for a seamless handover to Blair’s heir apparent, the dour chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown, who has the tricky task of positioning himself to replace the prime minister without looking as if he were trying to push his patron out the door.
This may not sit well with the voting public, the newly resurgent Conservative Party or others within Labor who may not see the transition as all that automatic. Whomever Labor settles on will automatically be prime minister until a new national election is called.
The thinking is that Blair will want to stay on at least through May, the 10th anniversary of his premiership, but having put a time limit on being a lame duck, he may face growing pressure to just get it over with.
Blair resuscitated a crushed and demoralized party, presided over a decade of economic prosperity and made significant improvements in health services, the schools and law enforcement. British politics answers to its own dynamics, but it does seem as if the Brits simply grow tired of their leaders after a certain point.
Certainly Blair’s close association with George W. Bush did him no good. Bush is disliked in Britain and especially within Labor. Blair was an early and forceful advocate of the war with Iraq; indeed, it was often remarked on how Blair would come to Washington and articulate and argue for Bush’s positions better than Bush. The fatal blow to his popularity ratings may have come when he stood with Bush in delaying a demand for a cease-fire in Lebanon.
One rap against Blair was that his breezy, upbeat manner, comfort with the TV cameras and glad-handing was too much like that of an American politician.
Blair has had a remarkable run — he is the second-longest-serving prime minister since 1827 — and all things must end, but this came way too soon for the Bush White House.